×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Defamation

Israeli helmer Yoav Shamir's personal, irreverent "Defamation" is an ace slice of provocative, timely docu-making.

With:
With: Abraham Foxman, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen M. Walt, John J. Mearsheimer. (English, Hebrew, Polish, Russian dialogue)

Is anyone who expresses anti-Zionist opinions necessarily also anti-Semitic? Is anti-Semitism itself still an endemic and dangerous global problem? Has remembering the Holocaust become an unhealthy obsession, perhaps with a hidden agenda? Will readers regard a Jewish critic as a self-hating Jew just for considering Israeli helmer Yoav Shamir’s personal, occasionally irreverent “Defamation” an ace slice of provocative, timely docu-making? No doubt the first three questions — and many more — will stir up red-hot debates wherever “Defamation” unspools, which is likely to be at numerous further fests (although some Jewish-themed ones may balk) and on upscale channels.

Shamir, whose previous docu features (“Checkpoint,” “5 Days,” and “Flipping Out”) explored various aspects of current Israeli life, lays his cards on the table from the start by saying he’s never directly experienced anti-Semitism himself. After a comical interview with his own 92-year-old grandmother (who claims Jews abroad really are lazy and make money off others so they don’t have to work), Shamir sets out to assess whether anti-Semitism still lurks underneath the surface of supposedly civilized societies, or is just a scarecrow used to drum up political support for right-wing Zionism.

Judging by the evidence offered here, both opinions look plausible. Shamir engages thinkers from across the spectrum, from Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, which collects evidence of anti-Semitism, to left-wing academic Norman Finkelstein, whose controversial book “The Holocaust Industry” argues that what the Nazis did is used today to justify Israel’s maltreatment of Palestinians.

As journalism, pic is impressively evenhanded (as were “Checkpoint” and “5 Days”), even though the filmmaker never attempts to disguise his own left-leaning sympathies. He can’t resist skewering the ADL a bit, making Foxman look somewhat sinister and Machiavellian behind his front of affability. Then again, persuasive but embittered Finkelstein, caught ranting about the “warmongers of Martha’s Vineyard,” doesn’t come across too well either.

The most comic and disturbing sequences spring from footage of Israeli high school students visiting extermination camps in Poland. Struggling to come to grips with what the Holocaust means for their generation, they eat candy while watching archive footage of emaciated Auschwitz victims (a moment worthy of “Seinfeld”). Later, some kids confess they’re scared to leave their hotel rooms because they’ve been warned by their teachers and the Secret Service agents accompanying them that the country is fit to burst with anti-Semites who mean them harm.

Use of hand-drawn graphics to identify onscreen figures amps up the comedy effectively, as does editor Morten Hojbjerg’s deadpan use of abrupt cuts, which dampens subject matter’s potential grimness. End result is at once intelligent, wry and — there’s no way around it — quintessentially Jewish, in the best sense.

Popular on Variety

Defamation

Israel-Austria-U.S.-Denmark

Production: A Cinephil (Israel)/Knut Ogris Films (Austria)/Reveal Prods. (U.S.)/SF Film Production (Denmark) production, with the support of the Austrian Film Institute, ORF FilmTV Convention, the Danish Film Institute, Danish Radio TV, YLE-Finnish TV, Nordisk Film TV Fond, Ministry of Integration Denmark, Hartley Film Foundation, Zukunftsfonds of the Austrian Republic, Nationalfonds of the Republic of Austria, the Federal Ministry for Education, Art and Culture, the Rabinovich Foundation for Arts, the Second Authority for TV & Radio. (International sales: Cinephil, Tel Aviv.) Produced by Karoline Leth, Sandra Itkoff, Philippa Kowarsky, Knut Ogris. Directed, written by Yoav Shamir.

Crew: Camera (color), Shamir; editor, Morten Hojbjerg; music, Mischa Krausz; sound (Dolby Digital), Bruno Pisek; sound designer, Birgit Obkircher. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 5, 2009. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Abraham Foxman, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen M. Walt, John J. Mearsheimer. (English, Hebrew, Polish, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Abel-Ferrara-Apichatpong-Weerasethakul-Leos-Carax

    Piano Boards Abel Ferrara’s ‘Siberia,’ Backs ‘La Noche Blanca’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    LOS CABOS  —  Driving ever deeper into the international co-production of some of the world’s highest-profile auteurs, Mexico’s Piano has boarded Abel Ferrera’s “Siberia,” starring Willem Defoe. A Mexico City production-distribution house headed by Sundance winning producer Julio Chavezmontes and director Sebastian Hoffman, Piano will produce the film with its other lead producers, Italy’s Vivo [...]

  • Tom Hanks Renee Zellweger

    Tom Hanks and Renee Zellweger Reflect on Their First Major Acting Gigs

    Before Tom Hanks and Renee Zellweger transformed into icons Mr. Rogers and Judy Garland in their films “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and “Judy,” the two began their awards-filled careers on the small screen. In a conversation with Zellweger as part of Variety’s Actors on Actors series, Hanks reflected on his first big role [...]

  • Cairo Fest Industry Days Doubles Prize

    Cairo Fest Industry Days Doubles Prize Cash, Moves Into TV

    A key aspect of Mohamed Hefzy’s Cairo Film Festival reboot has been to re-introduce and reinvent its Cairo Industry Days market component comprising the Cairo Film Connection (CFC) co-production platform, which this year almost doubled its prize pot to $200,000 for 16 selected Arabic film projects. But the mart’s major novelty this edition is its [...]

  • Kristen Stewart Charlie's Angels

    Kristen Stewart Tells Shia LaBeouf Why She's Proud of 'Charlie's Angels'

    Kristen Stewart decided to star in the reboot of “Charlie’s Angels” because she thought it would be a fun change of pace for her career. Stewart explained what drew her to the studio tentpole in a conversation with Shia LaBeouf for Variety’s Actors on Actors issue, on newsstands this week. “Why ‘Charlie’s Angels’?” LaBeouf asks [...]

  • Lady and the Tramp trailer

    How 'Lady and the Tramp' Remake Solved Its 'Siamese Cat Song' Problem

    Janelle Monáe sings two songs, including the classic “He’s a Tramp,” in the live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp,” among the most talked-about of the new offerings on the Disney Plus streaming service. But the biggest challenge for her writing and producing team, Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Roman GianArthur of Wondaland Productions, turned out [...]

  • Netflix Makes Move Into Nordic Film

    Netflix Makes Move Into Nordic Film With Danish, Norwegian, Swedish Projects

    Netflix is moving into original movies in the Nordic region for the first time. Action thriller “Red Dot” out of Sweden, and “Cadaver” from Norway were announced as Netflix Films at the Stockholm Film Festival on Thursday. The streaming giant also announced that it had scooped the global rights to Danish feature film “Shadows in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content